DUI checkpoints are a common occurrence within DC. Law enforcement agencies frequently use federal grants in their efforts to detect and arrest persons that drive under the influence.
However, this does not mean that everyone stopped at a DC DUI checkpoint is guilty of a crime, though DC’s zero-tolerance policies toward drinking and driving can make anyone feel overwhelmed.
The best way for someone to avoid the penalties associated with a DC DUI checkpoint is to not drive if they have had one or more drinks. However, if a person finds themselves at a checkpoint area, they should contact a DUI attorney in DC and consider a few things they should know that can protect their rights and record.
DUI checkpoints are recognized as valid under federal law. In 1990, the US Supreme Court ruled that states have a compelling interest to eliminate drunk driving and that public safety trumps concerns that DUI checkpoints can be an intrusion into drivers’ privacy rights. DC conducts sobriety or DUI checkpoints once or twice a month.
Checkpoints are notably different than police traffic stops. Traffic stops require officers to articulate reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed or has been committed to stop the driver in the first place. Reasonable suspicion is considered a low threshold including driving erratically, driving too fast or too slow, or some other action deemed suspicious by an officer can be grounds for a traffic stop and further DUI investigation.
With sobriety checkpoints, the need for reasonable suspicion to stop the driver is waived because all the drivers that pass through the checkpoint are purportedly viewed equally, provided with advance warning of the checkpoint and a system of random selection is employed.
Police use a pre-determined sequence to determine whether they should stop a car as it passes through the roadblock created by the checkpoint. If a person is stopped, the person could be required to perform Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) and Breathalyzer Tests, both of which are used by police to determine probable cause for DUI arrests (either for intoxication or drug consumption).
Typically, checkpoints are set up at locations where there are likely to be a greater percentage of drivers who could be driving under the influence (e.g. around bars, restaurants, colleges, etc.) Other than holiday-related checkpoints, most DUI checkpoints are conducted sometime between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., the prime party and drinking hours.
Nonetheless, police must observe some guidelines when conducting checkpoints within DC. Once a DUI checkpoint is scheduled, police must inform the public prior to the event. This includes providing a general location and the hours that the checkpoint will be conducted. Notices are provided to local media and legal organizations.
Law enforcement must then determine the sequence for the stops — for example, every third, fifth, or seventh vehicle — before the event occurs. Vehicles that are not stopped are allowed to immediately pass through the checkpoint.
This seems simple, but it is one regulation that can be easily violated. In some cases this is accidental, as the officers running the checkpoint might get distracted or so engrossed in the process they lose track of the sequence.
Often, and contrary to policy, there are reports of agencies arbitrarily stopping drivers based on whether it “looks like” the driver is intoxicated. Should evidence exist that this occurred in a DUI stop, a DC DUI lawyer may challenge the validity of the charge and work to have it dismissed.
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